Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week we look at a different perspective of war than last week’s title—one set in an alternate outcome to the Second World War…
#39. WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER, by Rhain Radford-Burns
“In my dream I smell the barbecue. I hear children. A dog. And I see someone. I think I see someone. These things… None of it for me. I move by roaring engines. Among warriors. We come from the night.”
After over thirty years of mindlessly running down corridors and shooting Nazis, war hero William “B.J.” Blazkowicz was due for a change. Even in his 3D and HD iterations, Blazkowicz lacked personality: his blocky head and simple persona maintained an anti-hero attitude and, as Bethesda’s Pete Hines described, “He’s just the guy that you play.” MachineGames set out to rectify this with Wolfenstein: The New Order.
From the game’s first cutscene, the depth of Blazkowicz’s character becomes evident. This is not a man who kills for sport, as is so common in World War II-themed video games; this is a man fighting against the injustice of the Nazi regime so that he can live in a world without the terrors of war or the fear of conflict. The game’s prologue forces this fear onto Blazkowicz in the most brutal manner, one that the player themselves will struggle to come to terms with: choose which of your two allies should die.
“Inhale. Count to four. Exhale. Count to four.”
Before long, the player’s expectations are flipped on their head as they discover that Wolfenstein: The New Order is not a World War II game. Blazkowicz barely escapes death and falls into a deep coma for fourteen years. He awakens properly in a psychiatric asylum in 1960 to discover that the Resistance has been disbanded, the Allied forces surrendered their arms, and the Nazi regime has won the war.
With the help of the asylum’s head nurse Anya Oliwa, Blazkowicz tracks down the remaining members of the Resistance movement in Berlin, living in their base alongside Anya for some time. The Resistance members are characters from all walks of life, demonstrating the widespread impact that the Nazi victory had.
Among the Resistance is: Fergus Reid, a skilled pilot and Blazkowicz’s right-hand man who eases the situation through his use of comedy; Probst Wyatt III, a young private haunted by the death of his senior but risen as a true leader among the group; Caroline Becker, an older woman left paralysed by a previous encounter with the Nazis, who rallies the team to victory; Set Roth, a former member of the Da’at Yichud, a secret society who performed advanced scientific research; Klaus Kreutz, a former Nazi whose family was killed by the Gestapo; and Max Hass, a mentally handicapped pacifist and Klaus’s surrogate son.
“It’s agony, to dream like this. Wake up to reality. But sometimes… truly… it’s good to remember what you’re fighting for.”
Throughout the narrative, the player discovers more of Blazkowicz’s personality by listening to his inner monologue. Reflecting on the past and hoping for the future, Blazkowicz’s speeches—expertly voiced by the talented Brian Bloom—provide a deep insight into the mind of a man at war with his actions. Each conversation is well-written, adding depth to the characters in the game—both in the Resistance and out.
Even the game’s main antagonist—General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse—has some depth. Despite having the most generic nickname imaginable, he is far from generic in personality and demonstrates the brutality of the Nazi regime in his very first scene. Deathshead makes the player’s blood boil every time he speaks, and MachineGames could not have selected a better villain for the game.
The enemies that the player faces the most throughout the game—the hordes of Nazi soldiers—present a perfect challenge for the player, providing enough conflict and interest to keep the player engaged throughout each level. The gameplay itself also continues to keep the player entertained, with several traversal and puzzle segments interspersed between the heavy combat scenes.
“Strange sensation, trapped in my body. I black out, I’m losing time. Sometimes seasons change in the blink of an eye. I’m having trouble with my thoughts. They dissipate like a scent on the wind.”
Each cutscene in the game plays like a movie. Not only does each actor perform brilliantly in each scene, but the scenes themselves are expertly crafted, with cuts and transitions reminiscent of a high-budget film. The developers appear to have researched effective filmic techniques when constructing this game, and that is evident from each scene. Check out one of the best, from early in the game:
Similarly, the game’s soundtrack is something to marvel. Composed by the talented Australian musician Mick Gordon—also known for his work on Doom and Prey—the game’s original score is a perfect mix of slow, reflective tunes and heavy, distorted themes. Most impressive, however, are the songs created for the game’s marketing campaign: ten fictional German pop artists creating Nazi-focused music in the 1960s. Among these ten tracks were three covers rewritten in German—“Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, and “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas—which remains one of the smartest and most impressive marketing techniques for a game to date.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is not a perfect game, but it does not set out to be one. MachineGames effectively achieved its goal of humanising B.J. Blazkowicz and creating an interesting and thoughtful narrative with deep thematic undertones. The New Order demonstrated that first-person shooters do not have to be mindless, and can possess the ability to keep players heavily engaged and entertained until the very end.
“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name: Mother of Exiles. With silent lips: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.’”
Thanks for joining us again with this innovative and interesting entry in our 50 favourite games list. Next week’s game is a step in a very different direction: a title known for its sunshine… For the latest from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP.com, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and join our community Discord server.